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AARON EKBLAD: Signed, sealed and ready to deliver for Florida Panthers


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With just a week before its prospects camp opens, the Panthers signed top draft pick Aaron Ekblad to a three-year entry-level contract on Wednesday.

Ekblad, the first overall selection of the 2014 NHL draft, is expected to make the Panthers roster out of training camp but the team could still send him back to his junior team in Canada.

On Wednesday, Ekblad said he's going to make it so the Panthers don't exercise that option.

"I'm very confident and believe in myself,'' Ekblad said in a conference call. "I believe I can be on this team on opening night and I'm confident in that. I'm ready and I couldn't be in a better position than where I am.''

The Panthers have revamped their defense heading into the upcoming season with Brian Campbell, Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson and Dylan Olsen the only full-timers returning from last year.

Florida signed veteran Willie Mitchell and will have young defensemen Colby Robak and Alex Petrovic working for a spot as well.

It was learned on Tuesday that Florida invited former Tampa Bay and Colorado defenseman Shane O'Brien to camp on a try out.

If Ekblad looks like he's ready to play at the NHL level, the Panthers aren't going to stand in his way.

"We're hopeful and we think he can,'' general manager Dale Tallon said. "He's big and strong enough, has the ability. It's just adjusting to the pace. Timing is everything. Moving from junior to the NHL is a big step, especially on the back end defensively.''

Said Ekblad: "I have a lot of hard work left to make the team and I'm excited about it. I couldn't be happier to be put in this position. I know Florida is going to have a good team this year and in the future. I'm excited to be part of that process.''

On Wednesday, Ekblad said he had healed up from a concussion suffered last month with Tallon saying Ekblad has been medically cleared to practice although the team may bring him along slowly through prospect camp.

"We'll take our time because it's a marathon so we'll be careful,'' Tallon said. "He seems to be 100 percent so we'll see how it goes in the first few days of camp. If he's willing and healthy, we'll let him go. But we'll be careful.''

-- Tallon said the Panthers were talking to a couple of other players who may come to camp on a professional try out. Florida opens training camp Sept. 19 in Coral Springs.

O'Brien, 31, is the only player Florida has formally invited to camp so far.

"Shane [O'Brien] gives us some size and toughness,'' Tallon said. "He called me and was sort of begging for the opportunity to come and play for us. .-.-. We'll give him a shot and see what happens. You can never have too many tough defensemen.''